Monday, October 3, 2016

Sense and Perceptions (a lost manuscript by Jane Austen – just kidding)

by Brendan Wenzel is a new favourite of mine.

What an interesting way to explore perception, senses and even identity.

So, we start with an intrepid cat who engages with the world with those parts of its body that help it sense what is around; its whiskers, ears and paws but not, funnily enough, its eyes.

But what about how other creatures perceive this cat?  This is what the book is really about.

There is the child who sees a friendly, smiling creature with big eyes and a heart-shaped nose with invitingly, touchable soft fur. However, the dog sees a cat as a skinny, slinking, sneaking creature with narrowed eyes and a too large bell hanging from its neck (all the better to hear it coming, I suppose). 

My favorite image is how the goldfish perceives the cat through the glass of his bowl: large and looming, a fuzzy, grey lump with huge yellow eyes peering intently at him.

Some of the images seem to convey a more of the feeling a creature might have when encountering a cat such as in the case of the mouse. This double-page spread displays a ferocious beast that is all tooth and claw with a whip-like tail and body against a vibrant, danger –signaling red background.  A teeny tiny mouse would be overwhelmed with fright.

Looking at this cat from the perspective of a bee, a snake, a bat, and a worm gives us unique ways of ‘seeing’. The bee’s multifaceted composite eye constructs a multicoloured mosaic whereas a worm’s perception is based on vibrations. The snake differs yet again as it sees the cat in infrared in a vibrant, somewhat lurid shade of yellow with glowing red eyes. A bat uses echolocation to ‘see’ the cat.

The illustrations are terrific at capturing the various ways all the animals perceive this cat.  Sometimes bright colours or muted shades in a range of mediums (“in almost everything imaginable” – author’s words) are used to aptly create the perceived image of the cat or to convey a feeling.  A single image sometimes fills two pages or might only be on one page but be juxtaposed with the image on the opposite page such as between the worm and the bat. Sometimes Wenzel uses zig-zag lines (vibrations) or dots (mosaic) to represent the cat.

I would recommend this book for elementary grades especially in grade 1 science for senses. There might be some use for this title in grade 2, science for the small crawling and flying animals unit. For the older grades I would look at the cadence of the language which reads almost like a poem making it great for a read-aloud. Co-worker Paula (and sometime guest blogger) suggested this as a writing prompt for the older grades, too. 

Pairing this with the Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin would make for an interesting combo for looking at perception. Both books take an unusual look at a ‘thing’, one a cat and the other colour in atypical ways.

Highly recommended.


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